March 26, 2017

Administration says staff jobs are not in danger despite budget shortfall

The path forward for Webster University will focus on reaching out to minority and first-generation college students, as well as offering more need-based financial aid, administrators said at a meeting today.

Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster met with staff members at a town hall style meeting with the Webster Staff Alliance (WSA) today.

Stroble and Schuster addressed several concerns raised in a WSA survey of more than 200 staff members, including sustainability, communication and Webster’s long-term financial viability.

Among other topics, administration told staff members that Webster has a viable financial future and that staff jobs are not in danger.

Private college perceptions

The administrators began by discussing the future of private colleges and their general perception. Stroble said the impression of private colleges as being attended by only wealthy students is inaccurate. The best way for Webster and other private schools to deal with this perception, she said, is by focusing on providing financial aid to students in need and on the needs of minorities and first-generation students.

“We’ve been arguing for expanding and increasing Pell Grants, and we’ve been arguing that financial aid should be primarily rewarded on the basis of need,” Stroble said. “Yes, students should have to meet merit qualifications. You don’t want to give scholarships and federal financial aid, or institutional aid, to students that aren’t likely to succeed. There is a minimum floor. But beyond that, we want to reward students for their need more than for their merit.”

Stroble said the recent election of Donald Trump makes the future of educational policy uncertain.

“Everything that we thought we knew about how people thought about things is now kind of up for grabs,” Stroble said.

Schuster said changes in the educational environment make it more important than ever for institutions to focus on supporting students.

“The competition for students is more present than ever,” Schuster said. “That implies that those of us who work in this industry need to find our own ways of addressing the needs of students, and those needs change.”

Financial stability

Despite some budget cuts at the university, Schuster said, staff members should not be concerned about job security.

“We will first and utmost take care of our people,” Schuster said.

Schuster said enrollment has declined across the nation and left many institutions with fewer than 1,000 students.

“Those institutions are in danger,” Schuster said. “Our institution is not in danger.”

Webster is on its sixth year of enrollment decline, with about 1,600 (or eight percent) fewer students this year than last year. Full-time enrollment overall has declined 23 percent since 2011.

Schuster emphasized that Webster enrolled a greater number of undergraduate students than budgeted for in 2016, saying the university had “stabilized the decline in undergraduate enrollment.”

Between 2015 and 2016, Webster’s total number of undergraduate students fell by 223.

Sustainability

Sustainability was a prominent issue on the WSA survey. Several of the responses pertained to a mistake made by the housekeeping staff earlier in the year — recyclable materials from Webster buildings were being placed in garbage bins. Stroble said the mistake was corrected as soon as it was discovered and that Webster’s many sustainability programs continue to have a large impact.

“We figured out that Webster University keeps 13 tons of recyclables out of the landfills each month,” Stroble said.

Communication

Another major topic seen on the survey was staff members’ concerns that they were not alerted in a timely manner to events that happened at Webster, especially those that took place at international campuses.

Schuster said since some campuses are 12 hours and 10,000 miles away from St. Louis, timely communication can get complicated.

“What happens in Thailand affects [all of Webster], because it affects our operation in Thailand, not to mention other locations,” Schuster said.

Stroble said while the university has explored technological solutions to communication problems, the most important aspect is for members of the Webster community to share their views so that communication is not one-sided.

“The only way community really gets built is relationship by relationship by relationship,” Stroble said.

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